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  • Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821–1844 by Lucien J. Frary
  • Athanasios (Sakis) Gekas (bio)
Lucien J. Frary , Russia and the Making of Modern Greek Identity, 1821–1844. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2015. Pp. 320. 12 illustrations, 2 maps. Cloth $110.

How much do we know about Russian foreign policy and its agents in Greece in the period before and after the emergence of the post-Ottoman and postRevolution Greek state? As it turns out, very little before Lucien Frary's book, which reveals the machinations of Russian policy and its reactions to the [End Page 257] establishment of an independent national, or rather, more accurately, an autocephalus Church of Greece. The importance of this development for the emergence of other national churches as a spur to Balkan nationalism has been emphasized in earlier publications. The role of Russia in the creation of a Church of Greece, however, had received little attention except from the point of view of the legitimacy it aimed to offer to the teenaged Bavarian prince, who was sent to Greece to grow up as king together with his fledgling state. Frary's book is a well-written, international, and diplomatic history with a nuanced approach to Russian reactions to the constitutional reform of 1843, which concerned deeply the autocratic, absolutist Russian court and administration. Frary also discusses the emergence of Russian public opinion and its reactions to Greek affairs and Greek-Russian relations, which will interest informed specialists—including historians of Greece, Russia, modern Europe, international relations, and diplomatic history, or rather international history, as it is called in some quarters—as well as the broader public.

The book covers the wide gap between the Orlov rebellion (which every Greek child is taught at school) in the late eighteenth century and the Russian-Ottoman War of 1828 that gave momentum to the cause of Greek independence under Kapodistrias. Not accidentally, Kapodistrias was a Russian minister, as most historians know, before becoming the first governor-turned-president. By the time he was prepared to implement his own course as president, however, he was assassinated in 1831 at Nafplio, and Russian policy changed accordingly. How does the author trace the impact of Russia on the making of Greek identity? The book keeps alternating its focus from the Russian court to the Orthodox Church to Greek political realities. The role of secret societies, the outcome of armed rebellions, and even the spread of prophecies are examined through the archives of Russian embassies and consulates, as well as a wide range of Russian publication sources presented here for the first time.

The argument could be summarized as follows: in the fifteen years after the emergence of a Greek state, which was a major turning point in the history of the Balkans, collective Greek identity moved away from the Ottoman Orthodox millet system and crystallized around revolutionary nationalism and a religious-secular synthesis. The book avoids, pertinently and convincingly, a neat and artificial division between modern and premodern. It traces the origins of Russian involvement in the Aegean and Ionian Seas and in the Balkans, beginning with Catherine the Great, "the founder of Russian philhellenism" (23). It offers an all-Russian perspective on the history of the revolution, the transitional period rather dramatically called by the author "from anarchy to [End Page 258] absolutism," and the role of Russian foreign policy during the so-called Eastern crises (1832–1833 and 1839–1841), controversially described as "the product of a civil war within the Ottoman Empire" (88). It then traces the leverage exerted by Russia in Greek ecclesiastical and broadly political affairs, culminating in the Russian ecclesiastical mission, arguing rather implausibly for its importance for the present, comparing the nationalist debate in Othonian Greece with the conflict between church and state in 2000, as the latter attempted to abolish religious oaths and religious affiliation on identity cards. There is a large amount of detailed research on the process of selecting the members of the ecclestiastical mission that will appeal more to Russian historians.

The interplay between Greek expectations and Russian priorities, however, reveals that control of the new state through its monarch and the new Church...


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pp. 257-260
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